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'Father' is a strident slog

June 06, 2008|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

At some point Colin Firth took over for Hugh Grant as America's official Englishman. Stiffly charming and awkwardly mannered, Firth conveys everything that Americans love, hate, love to hate and hate to love about the British. He's even become something of a middle-class heartthrob to boot.

It's all on display in "When Did You Last See Your Father?," an adaptation of the novel by Blake Morrison, directed by Anand Tucker ("Shopgirl"). Firth plays an award-winning poet who is forced to confront long-simmering resentments toward his father (Jim Broadbent) as he aids his elder through the final stages of terminal cancer.

Flipping back-and-forth between flashback memory sequences and the narrative present, the film's structure is a real slog, as Tucker's stately, unhurried pacing tends to lag. Though there is no likely thrill-a-minute telling of this story, at times the film is so determinedly, stridently middle-brow in its examination of bourgeois anxieties that it can feel like sitting through someone else's therapy session.

Actors of the caliber of Firth and Broadbent are going to do effective work even under the worst of circumstances. It is difficult not to feel a bit choked up as the film builds toward its inevitable finale, but then Tucker pushes things one grand sweeping shot too far, forcefully on-the-nose rather than subtly oblique.

One would only hope that a film about death and dying wouldn't have to feel quite so lifeless.


"When Did You Last See Your Father?" MPAA rated: PG-13. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. In limited release.

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